Derek “Fonzworth Bentley” Watkins was the keynote speaker at the Center for African American Studies inaugural conference, which began Thursday night with a reception.
Watkins, who held a special session, on etiquette met the students who are a part of the Emerging Scholars Program.
Watkins said he really wanted to hit home the power of the first impression when he spoke to students in the Student Congress Chambers.
“Everybody here has a dream, has a goal, and you always end up in front of people that can get you closer to your dreams and goals,” Watkins said. “But when you have that opportunity, seizing that opportunity and being able to stay in contact with that individual, that’s the goal. Do you know how to do that?”
Emerging Scholars is a program for freshmen that prepares students for looking at out of the box ways to progress, said Carter Bedford, Center for African American Studies coordinator.
Bedford said in his opening at the reception that this is the only Center for African American Studies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“We want to celebrate,” Bedford said.
Watkins congratulated UTA President James Spaniolo for putting forth efforts and resources to create the Center for African American Studies.
“Obviously, that makes this the Jackie Robinson of the universities in this area,” Watkins said. “It doesn’t matter how long it took to get it here. It’s here.”
Students who are involved in Emerging Scholars also had to participate in a creative project, where they described their first year at UTA, Bedford said.
Watkins began his interactive session by having each audience member hug seven other audience members.
“If these students leave with the revelation that they are CEOs, and CEOs now, and begin to govern themselves as such, thinking about who their board of directors are, thinking about their savings thinking about their mission statements for their lives, then I did my job here tonight," Watkins said.
Watkins said he hoped to teach students how to introduce themselves by showing them everything from a proper handshake to what they should say in the first fifteen seconds of meeting someone.
Marketing junior Jherrel Clay said he enjoyed Watkins's speech.
“I thought it was extraordinary,” Clay said. “When you hear a celebrity is headlining, you expect them to be sort of pompous and rude. So for him to be so personable was wonderful.”
Watkins talked about both his triumphs and struggles. To actually see the struggle and not just the good things is what Clay said he really appreciated.
“I hope it inspires individuals here on campus, that there are people both in mainstream and on campus who care about the youth and the next generation,” he said.
Clay said he felt the event showed students that not only the campus but the community also cares for them.
“This revelation of being the CEO, and I think that is something every individual needs to have regardless of color,” Watkins said.
Beford said there would be two panels on Friday when the conference continued.
“The first panel will be community-based research,” Bedford said.
The second panel would focus on race, class and crime, he said.